February 22, 2006

Sweden shine, ice hockey gloom for Canada, US

By Elizabeth Piper

TURIN (Reuters) - Sweden stamped their mark on the Winter
Games on Wednesday with Alpine skier Anja Paerson winning the
women's slalom and cross-country athlete Bjoern Lind helping
the country equal their previous best ever medal haul.

Paerson's first Olympic gold medal, won in thick fog and
despite an injury, gave Sweden their fourth gold of the Games
and their 10th medal in all.

With a 5-4 victory over Norway to reach the women's curling
final to the sound of Swedish heavy metal band Hammerfall and a
6-2 defeat of the Swiss in the ice hockey quarter-finals,
Sweden shone brightly on day 12.

But there was hockey gloom for titleholders Canada who lost
2-0 to Russia and for the U.S. who succumbed to Finland 4-3.

Paerson summed up her Swedish joy, saying: "I have been
through such a hard time and now I have done it. To be Olympic
champion was my dream."

Like Sweden, the Austrians have notched up a bumper medal
haul, despite their Games being marred by a doping scandal
swirling round their biathlon and cross country teams.

The medal tally stood at 19 on Wednesday night, including
eight golds, after Austrians Nicole Hosp and Marlies Schild
took silver and bronze behind Paerson, who won gold despite
being injured. Germany lead on 22, including nine golds.

Croatia's Janica Kostelic, who sealed her title as the most
successful woman Olympic Alpine skier in history in Turin, was
forced down the slalom table into fourth.

Her Olympics now look over. Tired, she said she would be
unlikely to race in Friday's giant slalom, the last women's
event of these Games.


Away from the piste, Olympic officials said 10 Austrian
athletes would have to wait for the results of doping tests,
taken during a night raid on Saturday.

"Laboratory analysis is not yet complete. Analysis by the
lab needs to be done very thoroughly and efficiently. This is
not easy work," said Giselle Davies, director of communications
for the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Austrian Ski Federation head Peter Schroecksnadel said the
hold-up was probably because the results were negative and the
IOC was embarrassed after making such a big deal about them.

"We still don't have results ... I think it means they're
all negative. If they were positive they would have published
them immediately, no? After all that hassle," Schroecksnadel
told Reuters at the women's Alpine ski slalom race.

The Austrians have criticized officials for disrupting
their training schedules with the raids, triggered by a tip-off
that a coach, banned from the Olympics over a blood doping
affair four years ago, was meeting Austrian athletes.

The IOC said it would launch a disciplinary investigation
into why the Austrians snubbed the ban on coach Walter Mayer.
He is now in a psychiatric hospital in Austria after crashing
into police cars and, according to local media, mentioning

Austria has launched a investigative commission headed by
Dieter Kalt, chief of the Austrian Winter Sport Federation. Leo
Wallner, president of the Austrian Olympic Committee, said he
hoped it would help "restore the integrity" of the team.


The medals for the two Austrian women in the slalom were
welcome but the day was Paerson's, who had hurt her knee when
she leaned back as she warmed up.

"I was almost crying after my injury in the warm-up and now
this is really unbelievable," she told reporters after
executing her trademark belly flop across the snow of the
finish area.

Earlier, Lind gave his country a record equaling third
cross-country skiing gold medal. He won his second gold in the
individual sprint.

Canada also had something to boast about. Chandra Crawford
won in the sprint -- Canada's first cross-country skiing gold
medal of the Games. On the ice, Cindy Klassen took gold and
Kristina Groves silver in the 1,500 meters speedskating.

But a 7-5 defeat by Switzerland in the women's curling
semi-finals was hard to bear for a country said to be home to
94 percent of the world's curlers.

Worse was to come for Canada when the men's ice hockey team
lost their crown, beaten in the quarter-finals by the Russians
but the male curlers did make it through to the final on Friday
when they will play Finland.

Switzerland rejoiced again when Evelyne Leu rose best out
of the fog in the freestyle skiing aerials and the Schoch
brothers, Philipp and Simon, took one and two in the
snowboarding parallel giant slalom.

"We spoke briefly before the final and ... told each other
to enjoy the race," Philipp said. "We just said 'let the best
man on the day win' and today that was me -- so sorry, Simon!"